Thank you, Cory: How a ‘tall, awkward’ Canadian changed my life forever

cory

A personal snapshot of Cory Monteith.

Glee is about opening yourself up to joy.

As I watched the pilot episode on Sunday evening, in hopes that perhaps it would help me settle on one emotion (I had been shifting swiftly from raging anger to disbelief to confusion to agonizing heartbreak since early Sunday morning), I remembered why I fell in love with Glee in the first place. Before the silly (and albeit sometimes stupid) storylines, the abundance of big-name guest stars and episodes in which fans wondered what even happened (often the answer was nothing but fluff), it was a show that cheered for the underdog and featured a cast that reflected the same message.

Chris Colfer still hadn’t grown into his now dashingly handsome looks, Lea Michele was one of the most recognizable names in the cast yet was still unknown to the masses, and then there was Cory Monteith: the leading man who danced with two left feet, obsessed over hockey (like any good Canadian, eh?) and had one of the most inspiring life stories I have ever heard. I remember falling in love with each of them, and the other members of the cast, but Cory’s story always resonated with me most.

At age 12, alcohol was already a part of his life. He attended 16 schools, including alternative programs for troubled teens, before dropping out at age 16. At the time he was stealing from friends and family to fuel his drug and alcohol addictions and was sent to rehab at age 19 after friends and family staged an intervention.

Before becoming an actor Cory worked as a roofer, a school bus driver, a taxi driver and a Wal-Mart greeter. He told Parade magazine in an interview that he was “lucky to be alive” and received his diploma in 2011 from an alternative school he attended in his youth in Victoria, Canada.

He described himself as “tall, awkward, Canadian, actor, drummer, person” on his Twitter page which doesn’t come as a surprise to those who knew him because through his ups and downs, Cory had a sense of humor about himself and life. He smiled brightly, gave warm and affectionate hugs to people he met mere moments before, and he dreamed of having a happily ever after. He was the kind of guy who you wanted to hang out with because he put everyone around him in a good mood.

My journalism career started in the winter of January 2011. I was an intern at a large newspaper and had written a few published articles before I nervously approached my editor and asked if I could take over as the Glee reporter, a vacant position. He agreed and I quickly became consumed with sharing my thoughts about my favorite show on the site, obsessively read the comment threads about my articles and began to schedule interviews with as many cast members as I could reach. All the while, I looked to Cory’s personal story of overcoming obstacles as something to base my own life on.

I would tell myself when deadlines were close or homework was late due to my attentions remaining with my Glee blog that if Cory could overcome everything he did, I could certainly finish one menial task. If Cory could keep smiling, even after all the pain, I had no reason to be cranky or whine. He became less of a man and more of a God in many respects – completely immortal, untouchable, and unshakable.

Whether it was my obsession with Tumblr, the fact that the newspaper I wrote for had high volume on their website or a mixture of the two, my Glee blog soon took off. I remember one afternoon I wrote a particularly impassioned editorial that received approximately 10,000 views in its first day of being on the site. I’m not sure where the total number is now, or if it’s been completely forgotten and buried over the years, but I hoped that the members of the Glee cast who read my blog (and I was aware that most of them had at least seen it once or twice) were proud of the work I was doing to praise them and their work. I thought if I could inform just one person about these fantastically talented and admirable people that my work would be done.

The day I finally met Cory was a hot June day in 2011. I was at a meet and greet hosted by the Glee tour and remember standing outside for hours discussing how special Cory was (aka I was giving a lot of “did you know” facts to anyone who listened) despite being exhausted because I had reviewed the show the previous night and traveled from Connecticut to Boston so I could see it twice because only once simply wasn’t enough, especially since one of the times was on press tickets so it wasn’t an additional financial burden.

After hours of sitting under a hot sun, I was one of the first people ushered into the air conditioned building where I was able to chat with Kevin McHale, Naya Rivera and Cory. I praised Naya and Kevin for their vocal talents and I handed Cory a letter in which I wrote about how he inspired me to work hard, face every obstacle head-on and that I credited all of my success to him, Chris and Lea. We didn’t discuss the letter but just as I was about to ramble and stutter something asinine (likely “I love you so much!”) he looked at my shirt.

I had momentarily forgotten, in a moment of intense fandom feels, I designed a shirt that said “Finchel Forever” because it was, and will always be, my “OTP to end all OTPs.” He said he loved it, he laughed when I showed him the side of the shirt that said “Trouty Mouth Loves Boys” (another editorial for another day, perhaps) and he gave me a high-five and squeezed my hand.

Cory Monteith and Lea Michele

Cory Monteith and Lea Michele

Two years have passed since that day, my interest in Glee has fluctuated, but my love and gratitude for Cory has remained steadfast. I went to the theaters on opening day to see Monte Carlo and I went back three more times, just in case it helped the box office numbers. I spoke passionately about how I credit him with my success. I listened to his duets with Lea Michele and wondered if there was ever a sweeter sound. (The answer, I found, is no there is nothing quite like the sound of Lea and Cory’s voices mixing on any track.)

I looked forward to the photos from Cory and Lea’s upcoming wedding that they were planning; I imagined what they would name their children and how cute it would be to see a small child seated high upon Cory’s shoulders. I would eat up every photo, every tweet, every quote in which Cory spoke of Lea or Lea spoke of Cory because they were so filled with love. They understood each other in a way that gives hope about the existence of soul mates.

I found out that Cory passed away via text message at 3am. I woke up randomly, reached for my phone and there was a message that read “Cory Monteith is dead?” At first I wanted to roll my eyes because my friend had obviously fallen victim to an Internet scam but to make sure, I googled and shot up in my bed when I saw article after article talking about how Cory was found dead in a hotel room in Vancouver. I read three articles and was still stunned. Then I began to cry.

I cried for Lea, I cried for the Glee family, I went on Twitter and cried because I saw Adam Shankman’s tweet. I cried because I looked above my bed and saw my autographed photo of Cory. I cried because I thought about every ounce of joy he had brought to my life and I desperately wished there was some way for him to know how blessed I felt for knowing him.

I thought of his smile, I cried. I thought of his beautiful voice, I cried harder. I thought of the pain he had endured, how he struggled and fought so hard to be clean and how his addictions ultimately took his life. I was sad, I was shocked, I was in denial and I was angry.

And I still am all of those things and I don’t expect this to be an easy grieving process. Celebrities, like everyone else, die one day but there’s something about Cory that has shaken the entire entertainment industry to the core. He was a light in the dark, someone who was passionately and completely loved by everyone who met him. He was a brother, a friend, a courageous soul. And he would have been Lea Michele’s husband and father of her children if the world was a kinder place.

It’s hard not to be angry and curse the universe for not dealing someone so kind-hearted and full of light and love a better hand in life. Cory didn’t deserve all of the weight that rested on his shoulders. It was just too much. But if I know anything about Cory it’s that he would want to be remembered for his sense of humor and the good he accomplished during his short time here.

Glee is about opening yourself up to joy. It’s a show that is built on the message that the underdog can be a hero and it introduced the world to fresh faces who became international stars. Yet Cory remained unfazed. He was always surprised by the love and support he received, he was always so humbled and expressed such gratitude, and even when he was struggling personally, he always smiled. As Dianna Agron once said, Cory Monteith is the very best part of Glee.

With a heavy heart and a boggled mind, I wish Lea Michele peace and love during this troubled time. I send my prayers to Cory’s family and friends. I wish the Glee family (because they are a family, not a cast) light and understanding as they say goodbye to their brother. And to people like me, those of us who were deeply impacted by Cory, I hope we all continue to talk about him and remember him with love and fondness.

The world is a little darker without Cory’s bright smile but heaven has a new angel and the star in the sky that shines the brightest is undoubtedly Cory’s.

Rest in peace, Cory. You are so loved and will be missed forever.

About Samantha S.

"I found the theatre and I found my home.” ― Audra McDonald

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